Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018

Scaffolding for a Comprehensible Tomorrow

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November 2, 2018

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‘The capacity to learn is a gift, the ability to learn is a skill and the willingness to learn is a choice.’

The choice to learn is where we as teachers play a pivotal role. Having observed batches of students pass out of school, leaves us dismayed when we wonder whether we have played our parts well.


The little bud knows not that the flower it’s going to bloom into would spread fragrance far and wide and for this to be spread, the flower needs to have proper pruning and trimming from time to time. That is what leads to the holistic growth that a student undergoes right from a very tender age. Facilitating a child right from inception is a fact that we are totally aware of but the question lies in the intensity of the procedural knowledge. That is where we as teachers and parents fail to judge the expanse of learning. This is where accurate scaffolding could build strong empires. The child should climb up the ladder from ‘I want to know what to do’, ‘I want to understand and use it’ to finally ‘I wish to know how what I have learnt can be applied.’

There is also no single ‘view’ for any given situation. This is where we talk about curiosity – curiosity to learn, curiosity to know better. This curiosity should be kindled right from the start;this being the sole reason why teachers are often encouraged to assimilate an all-encompassing curriculum keeping in mind student centric learning. Also, certain learner ‘needs’ at one stage may also be seen at another. These are merely suggestions that can characterize most closely a student’s ‘need to know.’ Appropriate intervention is what would ultimately fill in the gaps and make learning more learner appropriate.

Scaffolding is a methodology to assist child preparedness. The word scaffold comes from Old French eschace meaning ‘a prop, support.’ A child gains immense confidence when he is able to stand up in front of a class of thirty and read out a passage without any hiccups. This does not come in a day. Preparing a child in bits and pieces of learning rather than in massive chunks or a ‘That élan’ is what is needed by every individual.

When you think about scaffolds, you probably imagine the building assemblies used during construction to support workers and materials. Scaffold tutoring is very similar.The teacher takes the role of the scaffold which helps the learners move ahead with ease. Scaffolding offers an approach that is ideal for slicing up complicated material.

It involves the following structure: the teacher does it, the class does it, the group does it, and then the student does it. By starting at a greater level and working towards a more individual approach, students get comfortable with the process for solving the problem at hand, until they can handle it on their own. The instructions when repeated seem to help the students have a firmer grasp as they go venturing into newer learning. Eventually, they strive to achieve better results.

The main aim of scaffolding is to provide a sort of a backbone to your students to ease learning, keeping in view the three major types of learners- the visual, the auditory and kinesthetic. Complicated topics are first broken into easier ideas to allow for graduated learning.

An interactive lecture or presentation about the given historical event, with plenty of supporting materials would be a good start and would appeal to both the visual as well as the auditory learners. Here the teacher can start a class discussion on any current issue which could give leads to the topic being learnt and then as the discussion continues she can take a back seat thereby helping the learners to be independent. From there, you could split the class into two groups and have them debate either side one of the historical event or the most pressing issues, create forums and just act as a referee. Finally, now that the learning objective has been met by every student, the scaffolding can be removed, leaving the students to write and make presentations on their own within a stipulated time frame.

Teacher dependent mild scaffolding independent work

Let us take an example of the usage of this technique in an English literature class especially when the teacher is taking up a poem set in London during the industrial revolution. The students can be made aware of certain terms before the reading of the poem ‘London’s Summer Morning’, by providing the definition ‘hot and humid’ so that students will understand the meaning of ‘sultry’ when the poet speaks of the description of the London summer mornings, in the ‘sultry smoke’.

Another kind of scaffolding for vocabulary in the science class is often achieved through an evaluation of prefixes, suffixes, base words and their meanings. For example, science teachers can break words into their parts as in:

  • photosynthesis — photo (light), synth (make), isis (process)
  • metamorphosis — meta (large), morph (change), osis (process)

The teacher can experiment with various mnemonic strategies based on the subject and the grasping capability of her learners. Similarly, a teacher may also model a process—for example, a project work in History can be broken into a step by step art journal or a science experiment may require the step by step compiling of the model—so that students can see how it is done before they are asked to do it themselves. Teachers can conduct role-plays depicting historical facts. This is often a strategy used in flipped classrooms. These teaching strategies when refreshed from time to time not only keep up the momentum of the class but also the learner’s curiosity to outdo his previous learning.

How to Implement Scaffolding as a Teaching Strategy

Following the steps below will help you implement and tailor this approach for your particular classroom and your students’ individual needs:

Step 1: Determine Timing and the Approach by Subject

Just as offering the right amount of help is critical, so is applying that help at the right time. Timing is crucial with scaffolding because, if students don’t feel supported and encouraged while going from known to unknown, their frustration levels might be a major barrier towards learning further. The metacognitive learning comes to a standstill.

Step 2: Find a Great Visual or Verbalization

Using a visual in scaffolding is a technique that allows you to model the nuances of complex topics keeping the visual learners in mind. Once you break the topic into smaller pieces, use video clips or images to support the otherwise mundane teaching. Doing a role play or enacting a scene from Shakespeare could vouch for better retention. If a visual isn’t accessible for a certain topic, prompts could be used to grasp the attention of the learners.

Step 3: Use Verbalization and Visuals as an Opportunity for Discussion

Once you have visuals for your topic, use these to create discussions among the students. Problem solving techniques help far better than lecture method as the students get a hands on experience on the use-ability of the topic. For example, when we talk of profit and loss or discounts in math and connect it to the everyday shopping at the super market, it encourages the class to ask questions or share their own ideas for working through the problem. Take discussions even further by breaking into small groups. Being more informal, the discussionsafford a chance even for those who otherwise do not speak in class.

Step 4: Move to an Individualistic Approach

Each student’s needs vary, and students will have strengths and weaknesses that differ with certain subjects and their learning styles. Personal backgrounds can offer students a chance to share personal experiences and expand how other students relate to the same material.

The teacher should offer just enough help so that the student awaits the next challenging step.

Step 5: Emphasize that Errors are Okay

Encourage your students to see errors as a learning curve, so that they will handle mistakes as an opportunity and familiarize themselves with the material on a more familiar ground. Sharing of a few personal experiences by the teacher, where mistakes lead to success could be a morale booster for the child.

Facilitating the child to a level of reaffirmation is the sole essence of scaffolding. Helping them ask the question, ‘What could I have done differently?’ allows for an opportunity for creativity to seek out better solutions. Once the students understand that it is okay to make mistakes, they can take risks and open themselves to learning more.

The technique of scaffolding in your classroom is a good teaching method that can motivate many a learner. It comes with its own set of challenges, yet the benefit of helping your students is well worth it.


Jaya S Krishna

Jaya S Krishna

Jaya S Krishna is a middle school English teacher at Johnson Grammar School (ICSE), Hyderabad. Having come from a background of art and literature, she has a passion for reading and writing. She has been teaching for over eight years now, and thus comes up with new techniques which could be applied to make learning student friendly.

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